Leaders from Hamilton County Schools, the state and the community met for the first time Monday with the seven-person advisory board that will oversee efforts to improve some of the county's lowest-performing schools.
State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen was in town to visit Read to be Ready summer sites in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tennessee, which are just a few of the more than 200 such sites statewide. The four-week summer camps are part of the flagship initiative to promote literacy for Tennessee's youngest residents, in its third year since it was launched by Gov. Bill Haslam, first lady Crissy Haslam and McQueen in February 2016.
But before McQueen and her team visited classrooms at the Orchard Knob and Woodmore elementary schools, she met with the Opportunity Zone leadership team and the new Partnership Network's advisory board.
"This was the first time we've had the opportunity where we could meet face to face to talk about the overarching responsibilities collectively, and allow them to ask questions about [how we'll track improvements]," McQueen said of the meeting, which served as an orientation for the board members and allow district leaders and educators to meet.
McQueen unveiled the Partnership Network in February. It had evolved since the state first threatened to take over the schools, which have shown up on its priority list of the bottom 5 percent of schools for two cycles, in the fall of 2016. Instead of a state takeover, the network was established that left responsibility for the five schools — Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary — to the district.
The seven-member advisory board was named in May and the state is in the process of hiring a liaison to handle the relationship and strategic funding.
"We had a great conversation about their own expectations and what they'll bring to it, why they are passionate about this work, what they want to see happen," McQueen said. "Their individual passions and goals played off each other's well, they have different backgrounds so you put those perspectives together, they are goal oriented, they have a passion for the community itself and it was refreshing to hear focus on the outcomes and how we're going to monitor how those outcomes are actually doing."
Opportunity Zone leaders also spoke favorably of the advisory board.
"It's a really good group of people and strong advocates," said Jill Levine, chief of the Opportunity Zone. "It's a group of people who are really devoted to these kids and they are really devoted to this work. What struck me the most is how much we all have in common in this work."
Advisory board member Wayne Brown, Woodmore community member and member of the state-level Tennessee Parent/Teacher Association, said he believes the community already has the resources it needs to improve student outcomes in these schools.
"To see a significant change, as a community member, I believe we already have what we need here," Brown said. "I believe the state has high expectations, the district has high expectations, the question is what are the expectations of the people doing the work one-on-one with the students."
Three of the advisory board members were appointed by Hamilton County Schools and the remaining four were appointed by the state. Superintendent Bryan Johnson said he felt the group adds a different perspective on the system's work.
"I think it's a very talented group that all have some connection and some shape to the five schools and they have the desire to give back to the children in those schools," he said. "Their unique perspective is and will be important it's always good when you have different lenses. This is a moment in time we can benefit from those lenses."
The advisory board will hold quarterly public meetings when it will address some of the measures that will be used to hold the network accountable, which McQueen said now are in draft form, but might include how great teachers and leaders are defined and supported or how student and teacher absenteeism affects student learning.
Eventually, the board will help hold the network accountable to its goals and the state's expectations.
"Our expectation is that you're growing and you don't have indicators [of outcomes] that are going backwards, they need to be accelerating," McQueen said.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.